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AS and A Level: The Psychology of Individual Differences

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Five big ideas for essays on individual differences

  1. 1 Put the research in your essay in historical context. Each approach developed as a reaction against what had gone before and in response to contemporary events. Referring to publication dates will help you to understand why such a theory developed when it did.
  2. 2 Understand the dominant paradigms. The cognitive approach is dominant in modern mainstream psychology and the cognitive-behavioural approach is dominant in therapy. The biological approach is dominant in medicine and psychiatry. Other approaches are practiced but receive less funding. Anti-psychiatry exists on the fringes but has influenced service user focused models in mental health practice. Modern psychologists tend to take an eclectic approach in working with individuals.
  3. 3 Consider claims to/against science. Assess the extent to which explanations are supported by scientific research or not. Evaluate the techniques used by psychologists to operationalize mental processes in their research. For example, behavioural responses and psychobiological measures don’t tell us about the nature of thoughts and we can never rely fully on self-report measures.
  4. 4 Consider free will/determinism. The more scientific the approach, the more determinist it tends to be, because science is the search for causes. Seeking ultimate causes of behaviour or chains of causal links is incompatible with the idea that humans have free will and complete moral responsibility.
  5. 5 Consider reductionism-holism. Reductionism is the principle that one should always seek to understand at the most basic, most fundamental level: e.g reducing our understanding of depression to an explanation about the balance of chemicals in the brain rather than looking at the whole person in their social context. As a rule, the more scientific the approach, the more reductionist it is. Those that reject scientific principles and practice often do so because of this reductionism – they want to see and help the whole person.

Five psychological perspectives to look out for in individual differences research

  1. 1 Psychodynamic – The psychodynamic approach rests on the assumption that the psyche is formed and influenced by early childhood experiences. The psyche has three dynamic parts: the id, ego and superego. The ego has to balance the demands of the selfish id and the moral superego, so it experiences conflict if either one is too dominant. It protects itself through abnormal behaviours that disguise this unconscious conflict These are called defence mechanisms. Bringing this conflict into conscious awareness can resolve abnormality.
  2. 2 Behaviourist – The behaviourist approach developed as a reaction to the unfalsifiable psychodynamic approach. Behaviourists emphasise the scientific, experimental manipulation and measurement of observable behaviour – to them, any mental process is inside the ‘black box’ of the mind - which cannot be studied scientifically and so is of no interest. Behaviourism rests on the assumption that all behaviour is learned through interaction with the environment – at birth, the child is a ‘blank slate’. Abnormal behaviours are learned and so can be unlearned.
  3. 3 Cognitive – The cognitive approach developed as a reaction to the behaviourist approach’s ignorance of mental processes. It rests on the analogy that the brain is like a computer – it processes information. So personality or psychopathology can be explained in terms of differences or faults in perception and cognition. Adjusting these processes can rectify any problems.
  4. 4 Humanistic – The humanist approach developed out of the philosophical approach of phenomenology. Humanistic psychologists do not try to objectively measure people, they aim to understand their subjective experiences. They do not search for determinist causes of behaviour but emphasise free will: they focus on the whole person and aim to help achieve personal development.
  5. 5 Anti-psychiatry – The anti-psychiatry movement developed in reaction to the increasing medicalization of mental health in the 1960s. Anti-psychiatrists maintain that mental illness is a myth and that abnormal behaviours are sane responses to a repressive society. It aims to empower the individual – rejecting labels such as ‘patient’.

Five biological perspectives to look out for in individual differences research

  1. 1 Genetic – Seeks to establish the extent to which traits are due to inheritance or environment. Researchers study concordance rates (if one person has a trait or disorder, what is the percentage probability that the relative also has it?) using twin, adoption and family studies.
  2. 2 Evolutionary – seeks to establish continuity between human and other species and explain human diversity in terms of ecological adaptation, maximising survival and reproduction. Look out for studies on primate or other mammal behaviour that are used to draw conclusions about causes of human behaviour.
  3. 3 Neuroanatomical – seeks to understand the relationship between brain structure and behaviour. Often uses case studies of people with damage to certain parts of the brain or post-mortems of people with abnormal behaviours.
  4. 4 Psychobiological – related to the previous approach, but with more of a focus on measuring brain activity using a variety of scanning techniques whilst the individual is engaged in a specific task or activity. Often used for comparisons – eg. The brain activity of diagnosed psychopaths compared against the brain activity of ‘normal’ participants.
  5. 5 Biochemical – related to the previous approach, but with more of a focus on assessing the levels and activity of specified neurotransmitters or hormones and drawing correlations with specific mental states or behaviours e.g. stress.

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  1. Peer reviewed

    With reference to alternative research findings, critically assess Aschs study into conformity

    4 star(s)

    And to support this Abrams et al (1990) argued that 1st year psychology participants would show more conformity if the other group members were perceived as belonging to an in group (other 1st yr psychology students) than if they were perceived as belonging to an out group (history students). Eagli & Carli (1981) criticise Asch study for being gender biased. They claim that in Western societies a masculine bias exists & as a consequence women show higher levels of conformity than men in the Asch study. They also found that in feminist societies, women actually show less conformity than men.

    • Word count: 596
  2. Peer reviewed

    Discuss biological explanations of schizophrenia

    4 star(s)

    Indeed research has found that first degree relatives of people with schizophrenia are 18 times more likely to be affected than the general population. Monozygotic twins would be expected to have the same chance of having schizophrenia as they carry the same genes. Research by Gottesman and Shields has found high concordance rates (where both twins have the disorder)

    • Word count: 421
  3. Peer reviewed

    Rosenhan, Thigpen and Cleckley - Describe what each of the studies tells us about individual difference.

    4 star(s)

    He thought he was measuring native intellectual ability but there were many problems that he had not taken into consideration which were uncovered by Gould. Gould identified many problems with the research; for example, some races of people would not have been used to using a pencil and would not have been in a test environment before. This would have resulted in them getting a very low score and therefore would not have been a clear indication of their level of intelligence.

    • Word count: 806
  4. Peer reviewed

    Discuss issues surrounding the classification and diagnosis of schizophrenia.

    3 star(s)

    will be given drugs and exercises which are completely irrelevant to what they need to do, this could cause great harm to both their physical and mental well being, the misdiagnosis can also affect how they are in real life for example they will be labelled schizophrenic and therefore will struggle with everything in life, such as getting a job or even being themselves for they believe what they have been told to be true.

    • Word count: 448
  5. Peer reviewed

    Is autism an extreme male condition?

    3 star(s)

    (Wing, 1981). A low level of male hormones is produced by the adrenal glands in females, so there is some possibility of male brain structures in females. This could account for some females developing autism. Research has also suggested that autism may be genetic as they have found a strong concordance rate of 60-90% in monozygotic twins, but only 5% in dizygotic twins. The extreme male brain theory of autism was developed by Baron-Cohen in 2005.

    • Word count: 559
  6. Peer reviewed

    Discuss whether psychology should be called a science. (12 marks)

    3 star(s)

    On the other hand, there are some parts of psychology, such as biological and cognitive, laboratory studies are used to investigate theories. These are very controlled, therefore, researchers can't manipulate. However, for approaches, such as psychodynamic, the researchers use case studies which can't be generalised and are based on interpretations from the researchers. They also use methods such as dream analysis, which involve personal interpretations, therefore making them subjective.

    • Word count: 527
  7. Peer reviewed

    Summarise the aims & context of Asch study into conformity

    3 star(s)

    It's yielding to group pressure in terms of our expressed attitudes of behaviour. Its good (desirable) in that it creates social unity & everything flows better, however it can be undesirable if you change morals/values just to fit in. Previous research to Ash study by Sherif (1935) suggested that when in an n ambiguous situation (such as autokinetic effect) a person will look to others for guidance (adopt a group norm). They want to do the right thing but may lack the appropriate information, & observing others can provide this information - informational conformity.

    • Word count: 399
  8. Discuss two or more biological explanations of Schizophrenia

    To support this Varma and Sharma (1993) found a concordance rate of 35% for first-degree relatives of Schizophrenics, but 9% in first-degree relatives of non-Schizophrenics, signally a genetic factor. It can be argued that twin studies do not use the same diagnostic criteria therefore comparisons cannot always be made. Different definitions produce different concordance rates (McGuffin et al 1984). On the other hand however with advances in genetic research techniques it has now become easier to assess zygosity accurately. Concordance rates can also be measured using a variety of ways and differ depending on the method used.

    • Word count: 876
  9. Freud

    Without Freud and his in-depth findings many people would be in pain. The things that Freud found have taught many people about human interaction, and although these things were discovered so long ago, they are still being used today and they are still the basis of psychology. Freud was born Sigismund Schlomo Freud on May 6, 1856 in Freiburg, Moravia, a small town in the Austrian Empire. Freud's father, Jacob, was a wool merchant who already had two children from a previous marriage when Freud was born. At the time Freud was conceived, his father was 41 years old, while his mother, Amalie, was only 21.

    • Word count: 647
  10. Atypical Psychology: Describe and Evaluate Perspectives of Psychological Disorders (Studies and Theories).

    (Coordination Group Publications 2009; Richard Gross 2010). The Biological Theory of Depression 'According to the monoamine oxidase hypothesis or MAOH a depletion of serotonin, noradrenaline and/or dopamine underlies the melancholic symptoms of depression; Serotonin (5-HT), norepinephrine (noradrenaline) and dopamine are collectively known as monoamine transmitters, the greatest number of studies on these have involved serotonin.' (Claridge and Davies, 2003). (Richard Gross 2010). The biochemical factors contributing to depression are essentially low levels of serotonin in the brain, Kety (1975) developed the permissive amine theory which states that serotonin controls the levels of the neurotransmitter noradrenaline, a low level of serotonin causes the level of noradrenaline to fluctuate; low levels of noradrenaline cause depression whilst high levels cause mania.

    • Word count: 2547
  11. Summarise two different psychological approaches to identity. How has each been used to further our understanding of this concept?

    Each stage comes with its own unique conflict of which, resolution is a vital aspect for progression, but being typical and part of daily life, these 'normative crisis' (as cited in Phoenix, 2007, p53) can be seen as a mechanism for balancing the competing needs of individuality and social demands. The adolescent fifth stage, which ideally culminates in secure ego identity formation, was viewed by Erikson as vital for continuing healthy development. Preparation for adulthood necessitates young people making many life decisions, thus the period of adolescence provides a permitted duration of experimentation with social roles allowing delays in definitive choices.

    • Word count: 998
  12. Discuss evolutionary explanations of human reproductive behaviour

    This led Buss and Workman and Reader to come up with two kinds of mate selection. One of them, called the Intrasexual which consists of individuals competing with members of their own sex for access to the opposite sex. This creates competition between the males as they fight each other in order to access the female. The second type of mate selection is known as intersexual, this consists of members of one sex attempting to impress members of the other. This is normally based on females, as they need to be impressed before they consent to mating.

    • Word count: 509
  13. Outline and evaluate the psychodynamic approach to psychopathology

    If the ego fails to balance the id and the superego this can lead to conflict and may result in a psychological disorder. If the id is not balanced by the ego and it becomes dominate this can lead to destructive tendencies and adverse pleasurable behaviour. However, if the superego becomes dominate an individual may be unable to experience any form of pleasurable gratification. Freud believed that because we are born with the id and the ego and superego is something we develop in early childhood, then conflicts are likely to arise whilst the ego and superego are still underdeveloped.

    • Word count: 597
  14. Discuss two or more psychological therapies for schizophrenia

    In CBT, patients are usually prompted to trace the genesis of their symptoms, so as to get a grasp of how they may have occurred and how they might be treated and are then encouraged to evaluate any internal voices they may hear, delusions or hallucinations and so on. As their behaviour is thought to stem from distorted beliefs, they are prompted to find alternative patterns or ways of thinking to their maladaptive one. CBT generally tries to generate less distressing symptoms to arise, rather than completely eradicating the symptoms, as some, in particular negative symptoms, may well prove beneficial.

    • Word count: 718
  15. Schizophrenia. This essay shall discuss the various theoretical causes of schizophrenia including; biological explanations such as genetics and chemicals in the brain, Freud`s psychodynamic explanations of the illness, and the family relationships that ca

    twins, who share one hundred per cent of their DNA, have a much larger risk factor of forty eight per cent. The twin studies indicate that genetics do play a key role in the development of schizophrenia. However, as identical twins share one hundred per cent of their DNA, a twin should be at one hundred per cent risk, (they should 'have' the illness) if their twin has it. This suggests that there must be other participating causes that perhaps interact with our biology to bring on the illness.

    • Word count: 1715
  16. Personality and Motivation. In this assignment, I will be talking about the many different theories that attempt to explain where your personality comes from and how it can change you as a person. It will also link this with where motivation comes from.

    However, I think that this is the downfall of this theory because I believe that there will be some situations where this wouldn't be true. One example of this is that if you were in an unfamiliar place with people you had never met before, you would come over much more shy. However, if you were playing football with close friends, you will be much louder. On the other hand, there are theories that say you learn your personality from others in social situations.

    • Word count: 1331
  17. Free essay

    Discuss the range of methods available to the psychologist.

    Primarily because of the disadvantages shown psychologists are more likely to use other non-experimental methods and in particular more qualitative methods. One way in which you can change the laboratory experiment is to reduce demand characteristic by using a single blind procedure or a double blind procedure. This is where either the participant do not know exactly what they are being tested for, or both the participants and the researcher does not know exactly what they are being test for.

    • Word count: 3638
  18. Describe the value of the humanistic approach to health and social care service provision

    For example, people that go on long walks write a long essay or learn how to ride a bike can never achieve these things without the basics, such as water, food and sleep etc. When the lower points have been completed then someone can build their way up to the higher hierarchy needs. The Development in human beings does apply to Maslow's theory. According to the Humanistic approach (2010) 'This applies equally to the development of individuals: babies are more concerned with their bellies than with their brains....

    • Word count: 1000
  19. Discuss research into one error of attribution (self serving bias)

    This is a useful study as its demonstrates the use of self serving bias in qualitative data that has been gathered in the real world and not as part of a laboratory study, suggesting that the conclusions may be considered to be high in ecological validity and less likely to result from demand characteristics where participants are aiming to please the interviewer by answering in a way which they believe suits the purpose of the study. Another strength of the study is that the fact they analysed the explanations given by the sportswriters meaning that they also have some baseline data with which to compare the explanations given by the coaches and players.

    • Word count: 1980
  20. Psychology therapies of schizophrenia

    Token economies have proved to be effective with institutionalised patients resistant to other forms of therapy. Dickerson et al. concluded that token economies are especially effective when used in combination with other psychology and/or drug therapy. However, beneficial effects are often greatly reduced when good behaviour is no longer followed by the rewards the patients have become used to receiving. Also token economies focus on only a few of the symptoms associated with schizophrenia. Token economies increase certain kinds of behaviour but do not address cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia.

    • Word count: 575
  21. Black is Beautiful

    The 160 participants aged between four and eight years all attended primary schools in Lincoln, Nebraska. 89 of the children were Black (60% of the Black children attending school in Lincoln) 71 of the children were White. These children were randomly selected from the classrooms containing black respondents. In the town of Lincoln at the time 1.4% of the total population were Black, and in the first five schools used in the study the proportions of Black children were 3%, 3%, 3%, 7% and 18%. Also, 70% of the Black children in the study reported that they had White friends.

    • Word count: 1471
  22. Free essay

    What are the effects and reasons for human Eating Behaviour?

    This can be explained through SLT. Parents, especially the mother, provide the key role models for the child. A common technique, used by many parents and based on operant conditioning, rewards consumption of a disliked food with a desired food- 'you can have some ice cream if you eat your dinner' Religion - Some forbid the eating of certain foods, or food has to be prepared in a particular way E.g. In Judaism, dairy and fish are carefully controlled and the eating of both together is forbidden. Although some non-religious families have religious family traditions e.g. in Christianity - fish dish on Fridays.

    • Word count: 1252
  23. Are transgender operations ethical

    There is, for example, the issue of whether only adults should be treated, since children cannot give consent and parents usually consent for them. On the other hand, reassignment as a child might be more straightforward and biological interventions might be safer then as well. The question is should transgender operations be undertaken at all, and if so, when is it ethical to carry out such interventions and when is it not ethical? Transgender operations involve altering hormones and genitals to represent the desired sex and this can involve extensive interventions.

    • Word count: 649
  24. Basic Behavior

    People learn from the knowledge and skills acquired through the processes of stimulation and movement. Learning is also obtained by the association of consequences that is between a particular stimulus and response. Considerations are given to reactions of conscious or unconscious, natural or artificial and are then used to analyze the way the brain processes the information. The cognitive neuroscience is one of today's modern approaches that psychologists use to better understand a study of behavior and mental processes. The cognitive neuroscience can be looked at as the information processing approach because it focuses on memory through the thought process and the formations associated with the perception of problem solving and mental imagery.

    • Word count: 660
  25. Outline and evaluate biological treatments of depression (15 marks)

    This suggests that, in severe cases rather than mild ones, SSRIs are more effective than placebos. Similarly, Furukawa et al, in a meta-analysis of thirty-five studies found that antidepressants were more effective than placebos. There have been studies which have shown a rise in suicidal thoughts and tendencies in children aged six to eighteen who are taking antidepressant drugs. Olfson et al concluded this after carrying out a study in 2006 when he found that the incidence rate of adolescent and childhood suicide was significantly increased during drug-based treatment.

    • Word count: 1466

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